Diocese Settles Sex Abuse Suit
Woman Will Receive $875,000 over 1960s Incidents

By John Ellis
The Fresno Bee
August 26, 2006

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno is paying $875,000 to settle a lawsuit by a woman who said she was sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest in the early 1960s, the woman's lawyer said.

David Drivon, the unidentified woman's Stockton-based lawyer, said Friday that the case is the first to be resolved from six lawsuits he filed on behalf of seven people in December 2003.

"I'm happy for the client because it was resolved reasonably and equitably and to the client's satisfaction," said Drivon, who for the past four years has focused solely on cases involving alleged clergy sexual abuse. "I hope to do the same for the rest of the cases."

The woman, who was named in the lawsuit as "Jane Roe," said she was abused for five years in the early 1960s by the Rev. James Collins while she attended St. Mary's Church in Buttonwillow. Collins also served as a priest in Avenal and Lemoore churches.

Diocese spokesman Jesse Avila did not return phone messages left at his home and office. Monsignor Myron Cotta, vicar of priests in the eight-county diocese, also did not return a phone message.

As Drivon settles this case, four of the remaining five lawsuits are lined up for potential trials in Fresno County Superior Court.

The first, with plaintiff Pamela Brooks, is scheduled to start Oct. 10 before Judge Donald Black.

Three others, all involving male plaintiffs, are scheduled for trial at three-week intervals following Brooks, Drivon said.

Motions and other hearings in the cases are being held in Alameda County Superior Court. They will move to Fresno for trial.

The sixth case Drivon filed in 2003 — on behalf of brothers who say they were abused by a priest in Wasco — was dismissed earlier this summer, though Drivon said he is seeking a new hearing on the suit.

The agreement with the Fresno Diocese follows other recent settlements in cases involving California dioceses.

Last year, the Oakland Diocese settled lawsuits filed by more than 50 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Shortly before, the Diocese of Santa Rosa agreed to pay $10.6million to settle nine of the lawsuits filed in 2002 and 2003 alleging sexual misconduct, and the Stockton Diocese settled a claim for $3 million.

Many cases — including the six filed by Drivon — date from 2003, when a California law temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for civil sexual-abuse cases in which an institution knowingly employed a molester.

The Fresno Diocese had eight substantiated reports of child abuse by priests from 1950-2002 and settled with two victims, both for $45,000, in the same time period, a diocesan official said in 2004.

Those statistics were compiled as part of a national report on clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6320.


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